Review: All the Summer Girls

51qeoz7vyzl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Recap: Nothing like a broken-off engagement and pregnancy, a cheating husband and being fired after your life’s become overrun with drugs and alcohol to start your summer. But that’s the way the summer begins for three high school best friends who grew up together and in recent years have mostly grown apart. Kate, Vanessa and Dani had already planned to go away for the weekend for Kate’s bachelorette party. Now that she’s no longer about to become a misses, the three decide to go away together anyway and keep it close to home: the Jersey Shore, the place where they spent all their summers together growing up.

But for the three of them, the Jersey Shore brings up bad memories of the last time they were here together, back during college when a tragic night lead to the death of Kate’s twin brother — a loss from which none of the girls ever truly recovered. Anxiety builds as the secrets of their lives — pregnancy, cheating, addiction — keep finding ways to creep into this home away from home that holds another big, aching secret. Eventually that anxiety must break, and break it does.

AnalysisAll the Summer Girls has just the right ingredients for a great summer beach read — romance, friendship, scandal, secrets and of course the beach setting. Meg Donahue brings it all together, forcing the reader to wonder what she would do any of these characters’ positions. Female friendship is complicated, and this novels dives deep into those murky waters, especially as it details the relationship between Vanessa and Dani, which is so severed, one wonders if it can even be repaired at this point. Sometimes girlfriends truly do just drift. Other times, secrets keep them separated. And still other times, girlfriends remain friends despite all the secrets, all the time that’s passed, and all the little things that annoy each other. The bonds prove strong in this novel.

While Donahue brings it all together, it does feel forced. Vanessa’s obsession with her ex-boyfriend is unwarranted since it seems to be nothing more than an eight-year-old summer fling. Not only that, but there’s a lot of build to a rather anticlimactic and uneventful plotline in the end. Dani discovering some of the things she learns on this trip also seems to make it a perfect time for her addiction to only get worse. Instead, she fights it off which is empowering and impressive, but in my opinion, unlikely under the circumstances. I’ve read several books about female friendship and all their secrets coming out over the course of a summer. It’s a common trope in “chick lit,” but I’ve seen it done better elsewhere.

MVP: Dani. Though her life is more of a mess than any of the other three girls, she’s the one that pulls through the best. She doesn’t freak out. She doesn’t cause a scene. She just deals with it. She decides ultimately that she needs to make some changes, and she does it, no questions asked, no hesitation, and that is impressive.

Get All the Summer Girls in paperback for $12.74. 

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Movie vs. Book: Inferno

**Note: This post does include spoilers about both the novel and movie versions of Inferno. 

Robert Langdon wakes up in a hospital. He has been shot, doesn’t realize that he’s in Florence, Italy — and not Boston, Massachusetts — and doesn’t remember anything that’s happened in the last 48 hours. So begins Inferno, the latest and easily one of the best of Dan Brown’s bestsellers conspiracy thriller novels that have been captivating readers since The Da Vinci Code was released.

In the latest adventure, Langdon teams up with his nurse, Sienna Brooks, and finds a projector in one of his pockets that displays Botticell’s Map of Hell. He knows that whatever reason he’s in Italy, it must have something to do with this map. Over the course of the novel, he discovers that he has been brought to Italy by the World Health Organization to solve a puzzle, whose answer indicates the location of some kind of virus or plague created by a billionaire geneticist named Bertrand Zobrist. Zobrist is well-known for his teachings against overpopulation, so it makes sense he would create a plague that would wipe out the population.

The reason why I believe Inferno was such a successful Dan Brown novel is because it veered far from the others, avoiding the format we’ve come to expect from a Robert Langdon novel. Langdon wakes up and not only has to solve the puzzle, but his amnesia is so bad, he doesn’t even know why he’s solving it!  The young ingenue with whom Langdon teams up is actually working against him! And what’s more — he does NOT solve the puzzle in time! The plague gets out after all. The end of Inferno is not only sad, it’s unsettling and alarming.

The movie followed the book so well until the moment when the characters arrive at the Hagia Sofia in Turkey, where the plague is expected to be released. The movie ends there. Langdon locates the soluble bag that contains the virus, Sienna is killed, and the WHO gets the bag before it dissolves and leaks out the virus. The novel, however, has much more story. We find out that yes, Sienna Brooks was working against Langdon, but she also wants to stop the virus from getting out and is essentially a good person. In the novel, they also learn that the virus had been released a week earlier anyhow, so the chase that led them there was irrelevant; it’s already out. The good news is that the plague is not a deadly one, but one that causes sterility.

It’s obvious why the movie adaptation’s ending is so different. Everyone wants a Hollywood ending. The idea of the movie ending with a sterility plague released is horribly pessimistic. Not to mention, viewers would condemn the fact that Langdon wasn’t really much of a hero after all. On the other hand, the book ending the way it did totally works. Sure, it’s unsettling, but it makes you think. People watch movies to make them happy. People read books to make them think.

Get Inferno now in paperback for $7.40.

Or on your Kindle for $9.99.

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‘Big Little Lies’ Coming to HBO

If you haven’t yet read Liane Moriarty’s huge bestseller, Big Little Lies — don’t worry, I haven’t yet either!– there’s now more incentive to do it. The bestselling novel is coming to HBO in the form of a limited series.

According to Collider, the series is set to debut in 2017, and it looks awesome. I only found out about this a few weeks ago when I was watching HBO and saw the trailer.

The series stars Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Adam Scott and Laura Dern. It’s interesting that it’s set to air in this way on HBO, but apparently the story is complex enough to warrant more than your standard 120-minute feature, and the cast is so good, well, does it really even matter how long it is?

Meanwhile, this isn’t the last we’ll see of Liane Moriarty adaptations. According to Variety, Witherspoon and Kidman have already teamed up to produce a movie version of Moriarty’s Truly, Madly, Guilty. 

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Review: The End of the Age of Innocence

9780312176778-us-300It wasn’t easy being a woman at the turn of the century, being a woman who couldn’t vote, being a woman through World War I, being a woman through the Great Depression. But that’s what Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edith Wharton did. Not only did she survive, she thrived, writing fascinating literature and doing great journalism. She also made charitable work her main focus through the Great War.

I wouldn’t have known any of this had I not picked up the book The End of the Age of InnocenceEnd of Age is a non-fiction book that details the life of author Edith Wharton — who wrote The Age of Innocence —  during the years of World War I, a particularly exhausting time in her life. As an avid fan of The Age of Innocence, I felt it was only fair that I give the author of my favorite book the attention I felt she deserved, and that’s exactly what happened when I read this book.

Included in it is every detail about her personal and professional life during those years — who she flirted with, who she traveled with, how she wrote about the war for newspapers, and how she fought to keep as many charities running as possible to help those in need during the war. The book also explains how the war years influenced her writing during and afterwards.

The book starts off simply enough, explaining what it’s about to lay out. But the execution does not live up to the introduction. The book is so detailed, it’s almost too detailed. It seemed to name virtually every single person Wharton came into contact with over the years, and the intricate web of people, their roles and accompanying organizations was impossible to maneuver. While the book promised to explain how Wharton’s experienced influenced her writing, it did so in just a few pages at the very end. That was the section that most intrigued me. I looked forward to reading some literary criticism that would dissect the ways in which WWI crept into The Age of Innocence and House of Mirth. Again, the book does that, but without very much detail. The beginning of the book was so dense and boring, I’m not sure it was worth it for the short section at the end to which I had most looked forward. The book is, of course, highly regarded for its in-depth look into Wharton’s life, but it was a little much for my taste.

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‘X-Files Origins’ YA Books Due in January

If you’re a lover of The X-Files and the recent reboot wasn’t enough for you, there’s no need to worry. According to Entertainment Weekly, just after the new year, a pair of young adult fiction novels will be released detailing Mulder and Scully as teenagers in the late 1970s.

The X-Files Origins: Devil’s Advocate and The X-Files Origins: Agent of Chaos are set to be released on January 3rd and tell the stories of how events in Mulder’s and Scully’s lives led to the professions they entered.

Honestly, I don’t know that adults will be rushing to the bookstore to pick up copies of these books unless it’s for their children. This is clearly the authors’ and publishers’ attempt at trying to pull a younger audience into The X-Files fandom. If successful, it would certainly give young kids something to talk about with their parents. But that’s if it succeeds.

Entertainment Weekly has several excerpts from the new books. 

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Movie vs. Book: The Girl On the Train

Rachel cannot move on from her former life with her ex-husband, Tom. She drinks. She rides the train past his home and stares. She is so depressed that she not only stares at her old house with her former husband and his new wife, Anna, but she also stares at the house a few doors down — the one where a seemingly happy couple lives and reminds her how awful her life has become.

So when Rachel learns that the woman who lives there, Megan, has gone missing, she becomes shocked and then later, obsessed. She cannot understand what would cause Megan to run or someone to do something to her. But soon, Megan’s body is found, and it is announced that she was pregnant when she was killed. Rachel cannot move on from this story and quickly inserts herself into the world of Megan and her husband.

What starts as a story about sad women turns into a thriller and murder mystery. It’s one of hte best in recent years. In fact, it was famously referred to as “the next Gone Girl” when the book was first released last year. That explains why it didn’t take very long to be made into a movie — and with an outstanding cast at that.

Luckily, just like the “Gone Girl” movie, the movie version of “The Girl On the Train” lives up to the book. It follows the book to a tee, even down to the rotating narrators of Rachel, Megan and Anna. Title screens appear throughout the movie to explain whose perspective we’re about to see and during what time it’s happening, just like the start of each new chapter in the book.

The movie of course leaves out a few things including  Rachel sleeping with someone involved in the investigation (probably because it’s too intertwined and mildly disgusting) and Anna’s obsession with being a mistress (also off-putting in the novel). But the movie felt a bit long as it was, and including those plot points that weren’t entirely vital to the story would have only made the movie longer.

For all my worry that Emily Blunt was “too pretty” to play the frumpy, alcoholic Rachel who’s let herself go, Blunt’s acting was exceptional. It’s a role unlike any other she’s played, and it hooks the audience in her character’s first drunken scene. Justin Thoreaux, too, is excellent in his maniacal role, and the movie includes just the right about of suspense and sexiness.

Get The Girl On the Train in paperback for $9.60.

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Movie vs. Book: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

It’s a book I loved so much that I not only read it, I also listened to it to re-read it in preparation for the release of the movie version. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a YA novel that doesn’t read as particularly YA — a story about a boy who, grappling with the death of his grandfather, takes a trip to the small town in the UK where his grandpa grew up, only to find that his grandfather lived in a special home with a magical nanny and peculiar children who all have their own special power or gift. The boy goes on to battle the evil creatures who set out to attack these peculiars, especially after learning that not only was his grandfather a peculiar, but so is he. The fantastical setup of the novel is something that stimulates the mind and fills it with magical imagery and hope that good and weird will prevail over evil.

The movie version of Miss Peregrine starts off the same way but by the end, it takes the story so far off course, it’s practically out of reach. The movie speeds up much of the exposition of the novel, quickly getting to the boy taking his trip overseas. Likewise, not much time is really focused on the home, Miss Peregrine or the peculiars. It feels like the movie is more or less going through the motions, speeding up the story to squeeze it all in.

There are a few odd changes that don’t seem to serve a purpose. For instance, the powers of two of the peculiars are switched. The way the boy enters the world of the peculiars is also a little different from the way it happens in the book. He’s also told outright why certain things are happening, rather than him putting two and two together and figuring it out himself like he does in the book. As these changes happened, they stood out to me. But in retrospect, they are nothing compared to the end of the movie.

In the novel, Miss Peregrine is taken captive by the evil Wight named Barron, but in the movie she more or less turns herself in as a way to sacrifice herself for the children. The novel ends on this cliffhanger as the boy decides to stay with the peculiars, fight Barron and help save Miss Peregrine.

But the movie keeps going for probably another half an hour of additional plot that never existed in the book. I have not yet read Miss Peregrine’s sequel, Hollow City, so I’m not sure what, if any, of the end of the movie may come from that book, but the end of the movie includes a crazy fight scene between the peculiars and Wights, all happening in public with cotton candy and carnivals techno music pumping in the background. The scene feels like it’s jumped in from a different movie. Not only this, but everything — yes, everything — is solved at the end. No cliffhanger. Nowhere to go from here.

There’s little to no room for a movie sequel. Maybe the producers never planned to make one, so they packed it all into this one movie. But as someone who’s only read Miss Peregrine and plans to read the sequels that follow it, it was completely disheartening to see the entire story wrapped up in a tiny bow. The magic of the book is lost in the movie, and there’s nothing peculiar about that. It happens. But it doesn’t make it any less sad.

Get Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children in paperback for $7.20.

Or get it on your Kindle for $10.99.

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